Over the years, makeup artist extraordinaire Jessica Williams has built her personal brand into a powerhouse and become a go to source for Chicago’s film, television, and theater production communities. With credits on a number of notable projects including Southside With You and Spike Lee’s Chiraq, the chances are pretty good that you’ve seen Williams’ work without ever realizing it.
N’Digo recently sat down with the Chicago native to discuss her start in makeup, which popular productions she’s working on now, and her new interactive online program Work Behind The Scenes.
How did you get your start in the world of makeup?
My initial introduction into the makeup world began when I was a kid—I used to dress up my younger sister and cousin and do their makeup and hair like The Pointer Sisters or Boy George. That segued into my wanting to dabble in Fashion Illustration. I didn’t like the fact that it became more technology driven and was soon taken over by computers, so I stopped going to school. I had to work, so I got a job as one of those counter chicks with a pink smock at Saks Fifth Avenue. I was the sales associate for Christian Dior Cosmetics and discovered, at least to me, makeup was no different than water color or acrylic paint. I fell in love with doing makeup. The women who approached my counter were live canvases to me. I didn’t care about pushing product. I just wanted to paint. I later switched to the other side of the counter and began doing freelance makeup. From there, I began doing music videos, and that later turned into being represented by Ford Models for makeup and hair, and THAT later turned into becoming a union makeup artist for film, television, and theater. Currently, I am the Key Makeup Artist for “Chicago P.D.” and Assistant Makeup Supervisor for Wicked National Tour.
What did you dream of doing for a living as a child?
I had no idea I would become a makeup artist. It was the last thing I thought I’d be, honestly. I was always into clothes. I loved fashion, especially European Fashion and I spent hours in the fabric stores…HOURS. So, my goal was to become a fashion designer or illustrator.
What was your first big break?
My first big break was working on Barbershop 2. I was the third makeup artist. It was so surreal because of how it all happened. I was referred to the Department Head by two different people (no connection) and ended up helping her while freelancing in the same day. Divine order, pretty much…
Did you have an a-ha moment when you knew for sure you could make a living in this field?
I never really had an “a-ha” moment. It was just one of those things that developed into something even greater than what I expected. I’m living in Chicago, and at one point this city wasn’t known for film and television. Everyone left and moved to L.A. or New York to make it happen. I was a single mom, so I couldn’t pack up and leave. I had another person to take care of, so I made it happen here. Luckily, I stayed because look at Chicago now. The film industry here is just as busy as the East or West Coast.
Tell me about your online program, Work Behind the Scenes?
Work Behind the Scenes is an interactive online program I developed for Makeup Artists and Hair stylists interested in breaking into the film industry. The program consists of live webinars focusing on set etiquette, the do’s and dont’s for working in film and television, and interviews with actors and creatives, including Makeup and Hair Department Heads who work consistently in film and television. It is a challenge to find a mentor or programs in smaller markets. The online course makes it accessible for everyone who has internet access. I thought it was crucial for the actors to describe their expectations for Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists. In the very near future, I will begin conducting set etiquette classes on weekends that will include resume writing, social media content development, and head shot photo sessions in addition to the information provided on the online program.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception people make in regards to doing makeup for film and television?
In my opinion, there are two. The first misconception is that a lot of creatives believe they will automatically begin doing makeup and hair for celebrities and A-list actors. Nope. Not happening. You have to work your way up just like everyone else in any other field. On top of that, there is so much talent out there, the competition is very strong. The second misconception is that some assume having an “attitude” for lack of a better word, is the “norm.” It isn’t. In fact, having an attitude will have you sitting at home and not on someone’s set. Just be cool. Be respectful. People see through that phoniness.
Three rules you try to live and/or abide by?
1. Be respectful. That’s self-explanatory.
2. Be your best self in all that you do. That translates into a work setting as well as your personal life.
3. Never be late. Arriving on time is equivalent to being late, in my opinion. Show up fifteen minutes to a half hour early-people will remember that about you.
Can you name one book that changed or really impacted your life?
Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life by Bryant McGill. I wouldn’t call it a “self-help” book, however given the state in which we currently live in; it’s refreshing to read something that reminds you that you are not a robot and it’s okay to look at situations from a more optimistic perspective. When you are self-employed and running a business, it’s always good to have some positive words in your back pocket to keep you focused and motivated.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m socially awkward. LOL
Best advice or words of wisdom?
Be willing to invest time, money, sleepless nights, disappointments, miss birthday parties, etc. if you truly want to be successful ESPECIALLY if you are building your own brand. And those moments when you feel like saying, “screw it, I give up,” that is when you push even harder.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
“Impossible is nothing.” Adidas used that in ad campaign back in the day and it has been with me ever since. It’s tatted on my arm not only as a reminder to myself, but for those who see it when sitting in my chair.
What’s next for Jessica Williams?
My goal is not to be doing makeup at 60, so I have 13 years to go-LOL. I’d rather leave that for the next generation of Makeup Artists-it will be their time to shine. As of right now, I want to continue doing what I love, and that is making people look good in front of that camera lens or on stage. Even though I have been a makeup artist for over two decades, I am still learning. With respect to future projects, I’m focusing on conducting set etiquette classes globally. I am getting heavily into training and mentoring makeup artists and hair stylists. Social media has caused the beauty industry to shift in a sense-some believe having an Instagram account with a million followers is equivalent to being a professional. That is so far from the truth. Those who are serious are seeking guidance and I know what that’s like. When I first began working in this business, I didn’t have too many people willing to mentor or tell me what I needed to know about working on set. I’m eliminating that possibility for everyone else by sharing everything I know, the mistakes I made, etc. so that they are prepared to get out there and market themselves the best way possible. This can be a very rewarding career if you are consistent. Everyone deserves a shot and if I can contribute to that, that’s great.
For more information on Jessica and her Work Behind The Scenes program, please visit www.workbehindthescenes.com.